What should I do if I think my child is allergic or intolerant to Cows’ Milk?
Cow’s milk allergy and lactose intolerance
Cow’s milk allergy (CMA), sometimes called Cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA) is one of the most common food allergies in babies and young children.1 However, most children outgrow their allergies by the age of five. Being allergic to milk means the body’s immune system has an abnormal response to one or more proteins contained in cow’s milk.
The symptoms of CMA can vary in severity, nature and onset; they can set in very rapidly after food intake/contact, or they can be delayed. Examples of symptoms include: 1
- digestive problems (e.g. stomach ache, vomiting, colic, diarrhoea or constipation)
- respiratory problems (e.g. runny or blocked nose, wheezing and sneezing)
- skin reactions (e.g. red itchy rash or swelling of the lips, face and around the eyes or eczema that doesn’t improve with treatment)
Very occasionally CMA can cause severe allergic symptoms that come on suddenly, such as swelling in the mouth or throat, wheezing, cough, shortness of breath, and difficult, noisy breathing. When a severe allergic reaction happens (called anaphylaxis) emergency medical treatment is immediately required.1
Following diagnosis, avoidance of the cow’s milk protein remains the main recommendation for management of CMA. A healthcare professional will be able to support you in the continued management of CMA in older children, including how to continue to offer a balanced diet whilst
excluding cow’s milk protein.1
Check if it’s CMA or lactose intolerance…
Although they share some of the same symptoms, CMA and lactose intolerance are two completely different conditions. Lactose intolerance occurs when lactose, a sugar found naturally in milk, is not digested properly in the gut. Lactose intolerance has similar symptoms to CMA: abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, flatulence, and/or bloating after the ingestion of lactose or lactose-containing food substances.2 The difference is with lactose intolerance the immune system is not involved, and no allergic reaction takes place.2,3
Lactose intolerance is managed by limiting or completely restricting the intake of lactose in the diet, depending on the extent of your child’s intolerance.3 Lactose is commonly found in milk and dairy products but can also be found in other foods and drinks. Fortunately, lactose-free milk and dairy products are available in most shops and can be a good alternative.
Please consult your child’s healthcare professional if you’re worried or not sure about your child’s symptoms.
- NHS (2016) What should I do if I think my baby is allergic or intolerant to cows’ milk? [online] Available at https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/childrens-health/what-should-i-do-if-i-think-my-baby-is-allergic-or-intolerant-to-cows-milk [Accessed 25.06.2019]
- Heyman, M. B. (2006). “Lactose intolerance in infants, children, and adolescents.” Pediatrics 118(3): 1279-1286.
- Vandenplas, Y. (2015). “Lactose intolerance.” Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 24 Suppl 1: S9-13.